The other day at Fresh Market I suffered the withering glare of a checkout girl when I told her I didn't want to donate $1 to the Salvation Army's efforts in Japan. I'm sure she was thinking, "Oh, so you have enough to buy the Coconut Shrimp with Mango Coconut Sauce, but you don't have a buck to spare for those pour souls in Japan?"
I know I'm supposed to be setting an example for my kids and taking them on my rounds as I dole out food and money to the homeless, but, in all honesty, I am so fried when it comes to giving. In the past year, my family has been through a nasty pay cut, three furloughs and the threat of layoffs. Yet there is not a single day when I am not assaulted – either in an e-mail, a letter, a phone call or outside my local Publix – by the Boy Scouts, the Vets, the Red Cross, my alma maters, the local football team, the Police Benevolent Association, you name it. I give to all of them and the United Way on a regular basis, but that doesn't seem to matter. Organized giving has become so demanding that they make panhandlers look polite.
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That's why I feel defensive for the Barefoot Contessa, who is being vilified for refusing to meet with a 6-year-old boy named Enzo diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The boy, who reportedly watches Ina Garten from his sick bed, told the Make-A-Wish Foundation that he wanted to meet the Food Network celebrity. When told that her schedule was too busy, Enzo opted to wait. When the request was made once more, Garten's representatives replied with a "definite no," according to an online blog the family kept about the boy's illness. People are now saying "Heartless Contessa" is "too busy to cook for a sick kid."
I'm siding with Ina on this one, and it's not just because I adore her recipes. Give the woman a break. Not only does she have to whip up amazing meals for Jeffrey every day, but her PR people say she also gets approximately 100 requests a month to support charitable causes that deeply affect peoples' lives – and she participates in many of them, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation. I'm sure some PR flak at a desk is making those decisions for her and she doesn't see half the requests she gets.
I get that people are hurting out there. And I know that if my kid was dying from cancer, I'd be pissed if he didn't get every damn wish he made. But choosing where and when to give is a private decision. We shouldn't condemn people if they don't happen to support our cause, whether it's a natural disaster at home or 1,000 miles away. My husband disagrees. He thinks that people, especially those who are famous, should be generous to a fault. (Yeah, right, he's a giver unless it's his wife who needs money for Fresh Market.)
So who's right? Was Ina being a barefoot b**tch? Or does she have the right to pick and choose who gets to slice and dice with her?